Earlier this year, my post-holidays breakfast routine was ready for a makeover. (Seriously, it was enough mornings of holiday cookies and coffee — I couldn’t take it anymore!) So I mixed together this granola using some ingredients that I had on hand: rolled oats, dried apricots, walnuts, orange zest. I did make a run to the store for some big, flaked, unsweetened coconut, because what’s granola without toasted coconut? In fact it’s that deep toastiness that makes homemade granola so much better than store-bought, at least in my opinion.
The fruit and nut choices are subject to whim and convenience, of course. Raisins, currants, dried apples, dried cherries, almonds, pecans, chopped hazelnuts — I’ve been mixing up variations on this theme off and on all year. But the citrus zest is crucial, if you ask me. It adds gorgeous perfume to the whole and a subtle brightness to each bite. Orange is probably my favorite, but lemon and lime are both delicious alternatives. Oh, and I use grade B maple syrup, just because I like that extra maple-y flavor.
This morning I decided to go back to the original flavors, but wanted to experiment with a vegan version. There was only one substitution required — Earth Balance Original spread instead of butter. I’ve had pretty decent results using Earth Balance here and there, though to be honest, my idea of a vegan dish includes vegetables, fruits and/or grains — not so much the various (and highly-processed, by the way) meat and dairy “substitutes.” Most of the so-called cheeses I’ve tried are positively foul, and there’s only so much seitan and the like that I can stand. (But I will confess to an absolute obsession with the hazelnut-crusted Field Roast that I regularly buy from the takeaway case at my local Whole Foods.)
Anyway, I tend to use as little fat and sweetener as possible in this granola — just enough to coat everything, but without creating granola candy. So if you want to use real butter, by all means go ahead. (It’s delicious!) But if for whatever reason, you want a non-dairy version, then definitely try this with the Earth Balance. The only difference I could detect was that the granola needed about 10 more minutes in the oven to get property toasty. I assume that’s about the higher smoke point of the Earth Balance over butter.
My favorite way to serve this is with unsweetened almond milk, which has nearly completely replaced cow’s milk in my kitchen. I have yet to find anything that doesn’t work just as well with the unsweetened almond milk that I, again, buy at my local Whole Foods.)
This granola not only tastes delicious, it also fills your kitchen with aromas of freshly-baked oatmeal cookies. And there are very few food-drink pairings that I love more than cookies and coffee. So that’s a given here, for me.
I was recently browsing the goodies at Houston’s Revival Market, and grabbed a bag of whole beans from Greenway Coffee Company. The Kamacharia Cooperative blend is a light roast, which, if I understand things correctly, preserves more of the “terroir” of the beans than a darker roast (like French Roast or Espresso Roast). The noticeably light-colored beans transformed into a deeply-colored, aromatic, mellow mouthful of flavor. The label’s tasting notes includes graham cracker, and I’d agree with that. Along with a fruity character and toasted brown spices.
I’m actually not seeing this Kamacharia blend on their website at the moment (naturally), but based on this one, I’d be happy to explore their other blends. (And it’s tough to beat $1 shipping!)
Recipe: Apricot, Walnut & Almond Granola
4 cups rolled oats
1 cup walnut pieces
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 cup large-flake, unsweetened coconut
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2/3 cup chopped dried apricots
Grated zest of two medium oranges
6 Tablespoons Earth Balance Original spread (or unsalted butter), melted over low heat
1/2 cup maple syrup
Preheat oven to 300F.
Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir to mix well.
Evenly spread the mixture on two rimmed baking sheets, and bake for about 40 minutes (more like 30 minutes, if you’re using butter). Stir, carefully, at least a couple of times. You want it all deeply golden and toasty, but not burned, so really keep an eye on things for the last 10 minutes or so.
For maximum crunch, let cool completely before serving. Then store in an air-tight container; will stay fresh and crunchy for at least a week. Makes about 8 cups.